Country Music Legends as a Deck of Cards

artwork by Michael Graessle

For years I’ve been thinking that a cool way to present the legends of country music would be to illustrate the genre’s top artists through a deck of cards. Where to place what artist, what suit would be suited best for certain performers all seems like it would create great discussion points, and ultimately it’s a good way to keep these legends top of mind, especially if someone actually made a physical deck of these legendary performers.

Lo and behold, somebody already did. A company called (no, this is not a paid endorsement) has released a deck of country music legends, and yours truly received a set for Christmas. It’s illustrated with cool caricaturist interpretations by artist Michael Graessle.

Now I have to say, some of their selections are a little too contemporary for me. No offense to Taylor Swift, Faith Hill, and Toby Keith, but when I think of “legends,” I can’t make it much past the Class of ’89 (Garth, Clint Black, Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt). The Hero Decks set of country legends is still a valiant effort, but I decided to mock up one of my own.

When fielding the face cards, country music already has a defined set of Kings (Hank, George, Roy Acuff, Bob Wills) and Queens (Kitty, Tammy, Loretta). The Jacks seem like a good place for the top Outlaws. After all, Waylon Jennings had a semi-hit with the song “Jack-A-Diamonds,” so you pretty much have to put him in that spot. Of course Ace cards have to be absolute legends too, but ones not known for being “Kings” or “Queens.” And lets reserve “10” cards for the “Mothers” and “Fathers” of country music, since they’re of great importance as well.

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Since spades are pretty universally recognized as the trump suit, you have to reserve this for the tip top of country artists, but hearts also make for a strong country music suit. George Strait as the King of Hearts just has a good ring to it. Juice Newton may make a good Queen of Hearts, except there are probably more important artists to fill that slot, no offense Juice. And since there’s only a limited number of slots, some country legends are just gonna be left out. Using the members of the Country Music Hall of Fame is a good litmus test of who should be included, with some exceptions of course.

So anyway, after painstakingly consternating over who to put where, here’s my attempt at a deck of cards fielded by country legends. Feel free to share your thoughts below.

Ace of Spades – Johnny Cash
King of Spades – Hank Williams
Queen of Spades – Loretta Lynn
Jack of Spades – Willie Nelson
10 of Spades – Jimmy Rodgers
9 of Spades – Patsy Cline
8 of Spades – Buck Owens
7 of Spades – Hank Snow
6 of Spades – Roy Clark
5 of Spades – Marty Robbins
4 of Spades – Porter Wagoner
3 of Spades – Little Jimmy Dickens
2 of Spades – John Anderson

Ace of Hearts – Dolly Parton
King of Hearts – George Strait
Queen of Hearts – Kitty Wells
Jack of Hearts – Ernest Tubb
10 of Hearts – “Mother” Maybelle Carter
9 of Hearts – Alan Jackson
8 of Hearts – Kenny Rogers
7 of Hearts – Eddy Arnold
6 of Hearts – Jerry Reed
5 of Hearts – Bill Anderson
4 of Hearts – Roger Miller
3 of Hearts – Vince Gill
2 of Hearts – Emmylou Harris

Ace of Clubs – Merle Haggard
King of Clubs – Bob Wills
Queen of Clubs – Tammy Wynette
Jack of Clubs – Kris Kristofferson
10 of Clubs – Bill Monroe
9 of Clubs – Charley Pride
8 of Clubs – Hank Williams Jr.
7 of Clubs – Lefty Frizzell
6 of Clubs – Randy Travis
5 of Clubs – Tanya Tucker
4 of Clubs – Tex Ritter
3 of Clubs – Charlie Daniels
2 of Clubs – Don Williams

Ace of Diamonds – George Jones
King of Diamonds – Roy Acuff
Queen of Diamonds – Reba McEntire
Jack of Diamonds – Waylon Jennings
10 of Diamonds – A.P. Carter
9 of Diamonds – Garth Brooks
8 of Diamonds – Conway Twitty
7 of Diamonds – Barbara Mandrell
6 of Diamonds – Ray Price
5 of Diamonds – Webb Pierce
4 of Diamonds – Glen Campbell
3 of Diamonds – Brenda Lee
2 of Diamonds – Keith Whitley

Joker – Gene Autry
Joker – Clint Black
Joker – Chet Atkins
Joker – Jimmy Martin
Joker – Earl Scruggs
Joker – DeFord Bailey
Joker – Connie Smith
Joker – Bobby Bare
Joker – Ricky Skaggs
Joker – Marty Stuart
Joker – Dwight Yoakam
Joker – Jerry Lee Lewis
Joker – Gary Stewart

Yeah I know, too many jokers. But how do you leave Clint Black, Marty Stuart, and Gary Stewart out of something like this? Really, what you need is two decks. This is just the deck I drafted, and I’m sure we all would draft a different one.

Oh but then it got me thinking, we need a deck of cards of today’s independent country stars: Cody Jinks, Tyler Childers, Billy String, Zach Bryan, Sierra Ferrell and the like. And you could do one for Texas Country artists, with Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers on down. You could have dedicated decks for bluegrass, and there’s darn near enough old legends to do one for Western Swing, for songwriters, or country women, or Americana, or the country underground.

They could be useful recommendation tools for folks just getting into this music. It would give them a good place to start listening. So who knows, if time and interest permits, maybe we’ll mock up some more hypothetical card decks in the coming weeks and months.

As Kenny Rogers once sang, “Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.”

Good luck.

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